From boys to men: The cult publication that proves there's more to men's mags than boobs, booze and Bond fixations

The world's top photographers and stylists are flocking to work with Jop van Bennekom and Gert Jonkers
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Gert Jonkers and Jop van Bennekom are not your average men's magazine editors. "I panic when I read about watches and cigars," says Jonkers. "I hate speed-boats too." In contrast to the naff, flash aspirations of many of their contemporaries, the pair rejected the usual James Bond-inspired photoshoots and articles on over-priced grooming products in favour of something more personal. "We wanted to create a magazine that was actually for us, that reflected our own interest in clothes," says Van Bennekom. "We wanted it to be very individual."

The resulting publication, the aptly-named Fantastic Man – a biannual, now on issue six – is an appealing mix of serious features, beautifully shot fashion stories and "handy tips for the modern gentleman". With an elegantly pared-down design and contributions from some of world's top photographers and stylists, the magazine has already attracted a significant international following and counts the likes of Tom Ford, Peter Saville and Michael Stipe as regular readers. "We get emails from people all over the world telling us how much they like the magazine," says Van Bennekom. "It's a brilliant situation to be in."

Having previously achieved publishing acclaim for their saucy pink, gay fanzine (or as they like to call it "fagazine"), Butt, the pair took a tough approach when it came to the editing process – something that has clearly paid off. "Starting out, we had lots of Dogme-style rules about what the magazine should and shouldn't be," Van Bennekom explains. "We've been pretty good at sticking to them, although we have broken a few along the way."

Their number-one rule? "We don't feature anyone who we don't find fantastic." Unlike many magazine teams which will only approach potential subjects when they are "hot" and have some kind of product to publicise, the FM pair took a refreshingly different tack. "We mostly feature people at a point when they have absolutely nothing to sell," says Van Bennekom, laughing. "It's usually a much more interesting moment because they'll actually have something to say – they don't just tell the same stories that they've told to three other magazines that day."

The Dutch duo have a similarly rigorous approach to fashion shoots, preferring to show clothes on "real men" rather than the pigeon-chested adolescents favoured by the majority of the industry. "There are so many menswear magazines displaying the latest collections on 14-year-old boys," he says. "We're a bit bored with this whole obsession with youth. We're much more interested in featuring our own generation and beyond."

From "starchitect" Rem Koolhaas and Turner Prize-winning artist Steve McQueen to photographer Vinoodh Matadin and Frieze founder Matthew Slotover, the men featured in the latest issue are a typically diverse bunch, both in age and appearance. "We see it as a kind of fashion provocation to show clothes on men who are 30-plus," says Van Bennekom. "At a certain point, men are excluded from fashion images but one of the most stylish things for me is a man of 60 who dresses in a very personal way and still looks fantastic."

Though based in Amsterdam, the magazine is distributed globally and, with a nod to Jonkers' and van Bennekom's misspent youths, has a distinctly British sensibility about it. "We both grew up reading British magazines," says Van Bennekom. "Fantastic Man is very much influenced by British culture but seen from a Dutch perspective. There's a strong sense of irony to it. Also, the typography of the magazine has a very gentlemanly feel, which is, of course, a very British idea."

Dedicating lengthy articles to everything from male mannequins to formal hosiery, the magazine has a decidedly quirky editorial style. But with the menswear market currently experiencing something of a renaissance, the pair argue that this kind of sartorialistic approach to the subject is needed. For Jonkers and Van Bennekom, the devil is very much in the detail. "Menswear is so much about personal style – a certain kind of buttonhole, a specific kind of collar – whereas womenswear is far more concerned with fashion and trends," says Jonkers, not a little controversially. "We're trying to look at menswear in an anthropological way. Right now there's a real interest in 'proper clothing' and in the different ways that men can express themselves through the specifics of what they wear. We hope that our magazine reflects that."

Indeed, while many editors might think it somewhat foolish to commission a 2,000-word feature on the secret history of pyjamas, say, Jonkers argues that these are calculated risks. "We've been making magazines for 10 years now and I do believe that if we find something inspiring then the chances are that other people will too. We tend to go with our instincts."

So are there any fantastic men that they haven't featured yet? "There are so many!" says Van Bennekom. "George Clooney, Morrissey... we've only just begun, really."

'Fantastic Man' is available in Borders. To subscribe visit www.fantasticman.com 'The Butt' book is out now, published by Taschen

Comments